Not the most glamorous topic, but it’s striking how many more bins there are in Vienna than London. The bins are tied to posts along every street, and include a place to stub out cigarettes. There are also plenty in the U-Bahn (Underground) and other public transport. They seem to be regularly emptied.
That all sounds perfectly normal doesn’t it? However in London you can be searching for a bin for quite a while. The city has relatively few bins, partly due to a paranoia that they could be used for bombs as well as rubbish. The financial area of London even removed all bins during the IRA bombings of the 1970s and 80s, and has been hesitant to put any back. The parks in London have some, but they are always overflowing.
During my time at university in the UK, a nationwide ban came into force which stopped people smoking in all pubs, clubs, gig venues, restaurants, cafes, etc. The biggest effect for me (a non-smoker) was smell: in my first year of university I associated pubs with the smell of smoke, in my last year they smelt of stale beer; clubs which used to smell of smoke now smelt of sweat and stale beer. The fact that my clothes didn’t stink after going out somewhere was a relief, and I quickly got used to it (along with the rest of the country).
People in Vienna smoke a lot, and they can do it just about wherever they want to. Certain institutions are required to provide small “no smoking” areas, but they are usually inaccessible without walking through a room full of smoke first. Cigarettes are still relatively cheap and can be bought from machines dotted all over the city.
It’s like going back to pre-2007 UK, and nowhere is this more obvious than visiting a “British/Irish-style pub”. As soon as you walk through the door of one of these establishments and get hit by the wall of smoke you notice it’s not like visiting a pub in London at all, but one that’s between transported from 10 years ago. And it’s going to this kind of place which makes me appreciate the ban in the UK all over again. Clear air! No stinging eyes! No trouble breathing! No lingering smell!
Some people see Austria as one of the last remaining civilised places in Europe since it doesn’t restrict that God-given right of setting fire to things in confined spaces. However I think it’s only a matter of time until a smoking ban is enforced here (the Health Minister is pushing for it right now), and I’ll be happy when it is.
London is a place where the roads are full of traffic. Not just cars, but buses, taxis and motor and non-motor bikes. At rush hour, crossing the road in central London is quite a challenge if you’re not at traffic lights. First you have to get past the cyclists making their way down the edge of the road trying not to be crushed by a bus. Then there are the aforementioned buses along with other 4-wheeled transport. Next the scooters and motorbikes chancing it in the middle of the road, and finally a few daring cyclists on the wrong side of the road altogether. The thing is – although the taxi drivers will get pissed off when you jump in front of them – at least you’re still allowed to have a go at crossing the road wherever you like.
I came to enjoy the “thrill” of taking my life in my hands, so imagine my horror when I arrived in Vienna and found it’s not socially acceptable to cross the road unless there’s a green man! It’s also against the law, but “not socially acceptable” is the more important part, since there are plenty of laws everywhere which are collectively ignored. The breaking of this one will lead to stern stares and maybe even tutting. It doesn’t usually get picked up by the police (although someone was fined €140 recently), but that kind of social disapproval is too much for me to bare, so I stand at the crossing like a good Austrian.
It turns out that waiting to cross the road isn’t so bad after all. I think it adds to the calmer feeling Vienna has. Plus it’s probably for the best in my case: I still haven’t got used to cars driving on the right here so I think it would be even more dangerous than in London.
Snow in London is particularly magical. I think this is probably due to 1) its rarity 2) its ability to close schools and 3) the way it stops all transport.
1) Rarity: Snow is an integral part of Christmas in English storytelling. From Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (I guess – I haven’t actually read it – just recollecting the muppet version) to the countless Doctor Who Christmas specials, December 25 means it should be raining the white stuff. Which is strange, because not only does that almost never happen, but London can go without snow for years. So when it finally does happen there’s a feeling of “Hey look, snow! Like off the telly!”
2) Power to close schools: Anyone who lives in London (or the rest of the UK) and is a child (or has ever been a child) will recognise snow as a force for good. Why? Because a small amount of it is enough to get you an extra day of holiday, and you can spend it building snowmen and tobogganing with friends until your hands fall off from the cold. This isn’t some kind-hearted rule of the UK schools system, it’s just a side effect of having no-one to actually clear snow when it falls. Snow = health & safety risk = no-one on school grounds. Behold the power of snow!
3) Stopping transport: Per 2) above, no-one in London has the job of snow clearer. There are no snow ploughs. And why should there be? Snow almost never happens! London has some boxes full of grit which get thrown onto the roads if anyone remembers in time, but that’s about it. This means that cars may be hard to move (no winter tyres in London!), buses can get stuck, and trains usually get delayed so long that it’s basically the same as them not running at all. Even the underground (it’s underground!) can be quite badly affected since the tube drivers can’t get to work. This gives London an eery quiet when snow falls. The loud morning rush hour is muffled. Offices in London are typically half-full, and people leave about 3pm “to beat the rush of everyone else leaving early”. Behold the power of snow!
So while snow in Vienna is an aesthetic change, snow in London is a Big Deal.
Yesterday it snowed constantly here in Vienna, a blizzard with strong winds as well. Apparently there were issues on the roads, some delays with trains, and only one runway open at the airport.
It snows in both London and Vienna. In central London it snows typically once, or not at all, each year. In Vienna it’s a more common occurrence. It changes the cities in different ways.
Snow in Vienna is beautiful, and it really looks like it should be there. The buildings look like they were designed to have a sprinkling of white on them. But it doesn’t usually affect the lives of the inhabitants much. Yesterday’s blizzard aside – on a typical snow day children continue to go to school, people continue to go to work, the trains run on time and even the trams seem to cope. As I mentioned, snow is a lot more common here than in London, so there really are people whose job it is to clear snow as soon as it lands (1,300 people yesterday).
The first inkling you get that it’s snowing is the sound of ploughs being driven up and down every street keeping them clear. City workers are out sweeping the public street corners, and the areas outside blocks of flats are required to be cleared by the owners. There are even poles permanently tied to buildings which are pulled out into the pavement if there has been significant snow, showing you to walk slightly further away from the sides of buildings in case it should slip off the roofs.
I’ve decided to start a blog. I aim for it to be about the two large capital cities I’ve lived in – London and Vienna. Both are endlessly fascinating places and I’ve noticed similarities, differences and quirks between the two which I’d like to note down before I forget. I will be glad if this blog becomes of interest to anyone, but I don’t require a readership to write down my thoughts. I’ll also be posting some photos I’ve taken of these two metropolises.